Get Better at IELTS Reading with Elevate

As I mentioned in my previous blog post, I recently took an IELTS exam.

One of the things that is really important in the Reading portion of the exam, is the ability to read quickly and grasp information accurately. And obviously that’s not something that you can learn in a day. Speed reading is a skill that needs to be trained.

A while back, I tried a brain training app called Elevate.

It has different games that will train different skills, such as Reading, Listening, Speaking, etc.

When you start the app, there is an initial “test” that will evaluate your “level”. And then you can customize your training goals, you can choose to “improve focus while reading and listening” and/or “retain more of what you read and hear” and/or “improve your mental vocabulary”.

The app comes with a set of free games (in-app purchase to unlock more games), and every training session unlocks 3 games for the day that are relevant to your goals.

For IELTS Reading, I recommend the Processing Reading game, which shows you passages at increasing WPM (words per minute) and then it will ask you some questions regarding the passage.

This feels very similar to the IELTS Reading exam, except it really forces you to read faster while retain information accurately.

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Another game that will help improve your reading is Memory, which is actually used for training Speaking. But since it tests your vocabulary, I think it will be pretty helpful in answering the Reading portion’s questions.

It is pretty straight forward, just type in the word described.

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I think if you make it a habit to train, you’ll be pretty good at Reading in no time, and maybe perfect that IELTS exam!

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TV Shows are Back! Keep track of them with the Episodes App

I have been tracking my TV shows with Episodes for a while now.

It’s super easy to use, just search for your TV shows and add them to your watch list. You can even turn on notifications, so that it’ll send you a notification the day before, the day or the day after it airs.

The watch list will also show you when the next episode will air. Or if your show no longer airs :*(.

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When you click into your shows, it will show you the title and description of the episode. And after you have watched it, you can just mark it as watched.

Oh and it also sorts your TV shows based on Unseen and Upcoming, and according to the days before it airs.

All my TV shows are back, good bye blog! (aha, just kidding, I’ll still blog, or at least I’ll still try to blog as much as possible…?)

Link: http://episodesapp.com/

“New Year, New You” with Apps

New year… new year resolutions…

My goal for this year is to lose my chubby tummy! So far I’m trying (desperately trying, seemingly failing) a low carb diet, exercise…

And I downloaded a bunch of Apps:

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So far, I’ve tried to “work out” using Seven and lolo’s Easy Abs.

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Although Seven only comes with 12 free Full Body exercises, which includes push ups and planking, which I don’t think is physically possible for me.

I really like the perky cheerleader attitude of the voice over trainer in Seven. Although if I were to listen to her voice for 7 months, I might get sick of it.

Seven is great because the entire session only spans for 7 minutes, and it includes rests, which I definitely need, in between each exercise.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/7-minute-workout-seven-high/id650276551?mt=8

lolo’s Easy Abs

I just tried out lolo’s Easy Abs yesterday, and I like it so far.

It’s all about exercises to get abs, which I’d like to strive for. But I’ll be just as happy if I can just get rid of my chubby tummy.

I love that it has videos with voice over instructions showing each exercise. Since I’m quite a stranger to exercises, I want to make sure that I’m doing it right.

And each day includes 5 exercises (which you can swap based on your preference); the free version only allows 3 minute sessions.

And there are different sets of exercises for each day, which I think should prevent me from getting bored.

You can also play music, the app will change the song’s BPM to match your pace. Although I’m not really a workout music kind of person, so I haven’t tried that function yet.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/easy-abs-free/id491194029?mt=8

Moves and Walking Hello Kitty are apps that I downloaded as pedometer (they say even walking helps lose calories!).

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I really like the look of Moves, and it tracks where I walk to and from. And it counts how long, how far, how many steps and how many calories I lose per day.

The only thing that I don’t like about Moves is I can’t see a graph of my progress.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/en/app/moves/id509204969?mt=8

Walking Hello Kitty

Hello Kitty anything is super cute.

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You can dress up Kitty, change your background, etc. And see your progress in a Calendar form or through a graph…

But but but, I don’t know why it’s buggy on my device (maybe because I’m only an iPhone 5 running iOS 7), it doesn’t seem to be able to track my steps at all.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/nz/app/simple-diet!-walking-hello/id899014492?mt=8

So at the end of the day, I actually deleted both Moves and Walking Hello Kitty. Instead I downloaded Pacer because it links up with My Fitness Pal.

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Pacer is also a pedometer, it tracks steps, you can record your weight and blood pressure, and presents your progress in really nice graphs.

You can even set a target and it’ll help you track how close you are getting to your target with your steps each day.

EDIT: At the end of the day, I deleted Pacer, because it drains my phone’s battery.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/pacer-pedometer-plus-weight/id600446812?mt=8

My Fitness Pal

I think I need to keep track of the food I eat to make sure that I’m dieting more than I’m cheating (according to my friend, cheat day only happens once a week! aghast!).

It allows me to keep a diary of the food I eat. And it has a seemingly large database of foods (it even has the Taiwanese pineapple cake and the Filipino dish giniling!), so I can find out how much calories each contains. You can set a target for each day, and it will automatically calculate if you are over or under you target (I am unfortunately almost over my target, but I will try harder).

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/en/app/calorie-counter-diet-tracker/id341232718?mt=8

And I was just curious what my ideal weight is, so I downloaded runtastic’s Ideal Weight.

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And guess what? I am only 3 KGs away from underweight, and I actually still 2.7 KGs shy from my ideal weight. That means that I need to lose my chubby tummy without losing weight, in fact, I need to gain weight.

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And I also found out that I am lighter than 94.9% of the population!

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Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/your-ideal-weight-and-bmi/id488717031?mt=8

I also downloaded a secret folder app to hide my chubby tummy progress photos.

But the app that I think will help me most of all is Line.

Because my friends on the other end, asks me what I had for lunch, for dinner to make sure I keep with my diet. And she send cute stickers.

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Link: https://itunes.apple.com/EN/app/line/id443904275?mt=8

New Year, New Me? Aja! Fight on!

Open in Instagram

I was a little obsessed with trying out different Photo Captioning apps for a while, until I finally settled on Typic, and then deleted the rest.

What does apps (Overgram, Instaquote and Typic) had in common was that at the end of the day, they all let you share your work in Instagram.

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I’m just gonna write a really short code bit on how to do that.

Instagram allows apps to interact with their using different iPhone hooks (http://instagram.com/developer/iphone-hooks).

I’m going to use Document Interaction API.

It’s pretty simple, according to the Instagram developer page, you’d need to save your picture with a “.ig” or a “.igo” extension. And it has to be at least 612 pixels, either in width or height, anything less, won’t be accepted by Instagram.

When your picture is opened in Instagram, it’ll go automatically to the Filter screen. That means there’s no crop option, so better if your picture is a square.

So code bits:

In the .h of your ViewController, declare a UIDocumentInteractionController:

@property (strong, nonatomic) UIDocumentInteractionController *documentInteractionController;

And then set it as a UIDocumentInteractionControllerDelegate, like this:

@interface ComicViewController : UIViewController <UIDocumentInteractionControllerDelegate>

And then in the .m of your View Controller you add a button, or whatever that you want to use to trigger “Open in Instagram” that calls this method:

-(void) openInInstagram
{
    NSString *strImagePath = [[NSHomeDirectory() stringByAppendingPathComponent:@”Documents”] stringByAppendingPathComponent: filename];

    NSURL *url = [NSURL fileURLWithPath: strImagePath];

    self.documentInteractionController = [UIDocumentInteractionController interactionControllerWithURL: url];
    [self.documentInteractionController setDelegate:self];

    NSMutableDictionary *annotationDict = [[NSMutableDictionary alloc] init];

    [annotationDict setValue: @”Instagram Caption” forKey: @”InstagramCaption”];

    self.documentInteractionController.UTI = @”com.instagram.photo”;

    self.documentInteractionController.annotation = [[NSDictionary alloc] initWithDictionary: annotationDict];

    [self.documentInteractionController presentOpenInMenuFromRect: CGRectZero inView: self.view animated: YES];
}

You need to pass an url to your Document Interaction Controller, since my file is saved in the Documents folder of my app, so my url looks like that.

So if you want to open your picture in Instagram and any other app that supports opening image files, simply use the file extension “.ig” for your image, but if you only want to open in Instragram, use “.igo”. Also, the UTI I set in the code above is “com.instagram.photo”, if you want it to be exclusive, use “com.instagram.exclusivegram”

You can set the caption you want to appear in Instagram. You can add hash tags in your caption, that works too.

And that’s it, when you click a button that calls the “openInInstagram” method, you’ll be able to see an action sheet similar to that screenshot.

Thoughts while reading Cocos2d-X by Example Beginner’s Guide Chapters 1 & 2

Packt published a new book on Cocos2d-X, “Cocos2d-X by Example Beginner’s Guide” by Roger Engelbert (http://www.packtpub.com/cocos2d-x-by-example/book)

Cocos2d-X by Example Beginner's Guide

First off, book cover is adorable.

Second, the book’s spiel says no programming knowledge required, oh really now? Anyway, I know Cocos2d, but I don’t know Cocos2dx nor C++, the language for Cocos2dx, so here I go. If I can make some cookie cutter games at the end of this review then…

I’m just going to spurt words while I read the blog and maybe give an overall summary and reviews at the end of this post. You can ignore the italicized parts, those are just random ramblings.

#nowplaying Lana Del Rey’s Young and Beautiful #onloop after watching “The Great Gatsby” last night.

Chapter 1 covers Installation. Installing Cocos2dx and whatnots.

The book assumes that you are on a Mac and you have Xcode, which yeah, I am and iOS dev and all, I have Xcode.

Okay, the book gives pretty clear instructions on where to download Cocos2dx. now, I just need a few minutes to download them.

Cram my Crash Course for Creativity assignment till then.

Okay, the instructions for installing are pretty clear. Although my Terminal had some other suggestions for how to properly install it. Anyway, that’s done. So when I create a new project in Xcode now I’ll be able to see the different Cocos2dx templates, awesome.

Just “built” and run my first Cocos2dx program, okay, the coconut head is silver and blue now. Looks kinda funky like Pepsi Blue.

Anyway, he did a brief run through on how to run the Cocos2dx samples so that we could see all the infinite possibilities, okay not really infinite, but it’s a pretty long list of sample tests.

And then, he says might need to spend some money on additional tools. He recommend and uses four tools.

TexturePacker, although you can also use Zwoptex as a free alternative. TexturePacker’s Andreas Löw actually used to offer (not sure if he still does, try tweeting him) licenses for bloggers. So yah, I have a free copy of TexturePacker.

ParticleDesigner, which will ease the process of making particles. No, I don’t have that. I’ll probably look for some free alternatives, the author didn’t mention or recommend any.

A tool to help build bitmap fonts, he recommended Glyph designer (not free), bmGlyph (cheaper, but yah, still not free) and FontBuilder (yeah, free). According to him “It is not extremely hard to build a Bitmap font by hand, not nearly as hard as building a particle effect from scratch, but doing it once is enough to convince you to get one of these tools fast.” Back in my Cocos2d days I used Hiero (free) and Photoshop (self advertise: blog on How to Make Fancy Labels using Cocos2d http://purplelilgirl.tumblr.com/post/2854271507/how-to-make-fancy-labels-using-cocos2d).

And according to him, no contest cfxr for sound effects. Free!

And we are done with Chapter 1. We installed Cocos2dx, and run a few sample projects and got to know the structure of basic Cocos2dx applications, so on to Chapter 2.

Chapter 2 gives an intro of C++ and Cocos2dx.

“This chapter will be aimed at two types of developers: the original Cocos2d developer who is scared of C++ but won’t admit it to his friends; and the C++ coder who never even heard of Cocos2d and finds Objective-C funny looking.”

I’m the first type, but I’m not afraid to admit that I’m afraid of C++. I am terrified of C++. If you give me an exam in C++, I will (and have, twice) submit an empty exam sheet (surprisingly passed one of those exams, I think the examiner took pity on account of my C++ phobia).

Can you tell that I’m stalling?

First the author goes through the basics of Cocos2d, if you know Cocos2d then you’re good to go. So far…

And then comes the dreaded C++ bits.

He says, “Don’t worry. The C part is easy, the first plus goes by really fast, but that second plus, Oh, boy.” Er… Oh boy…

I like the way the author talks in this book, kind of entertaining in a way.

He said to open your favorite text editor, because he doesn’t want code hinting and autocomplete features to get in the way. What? How did you think I finished a game in XNA without little knowledge in XNA, and completely zero knowledge in C#?! Code hinting and autocomplete, seriously.

My favorite text editor – TextEdit, because it comes bundled with a Mac. if I were on my PC laptop, I’d say Notepad, because that’s bundled there. I used to write websites in Notepad, those were the days… Yah, still stalling.

C++ syntax. Okay, so far, apprehensive.

Instantiation and Memory Management. Two words, no ARC. “so Objective-C developers who have forgotten memory management might have a problem here.” Uh oh.

The rule regarding memory management with C++ is very simple: if you new, you must delete.” Okay, I get that. And it supposedly has some other options and commands that’s similar to Objective C without ARC, okay.

 And then he continues with how to instantiate stuff. Okay, so far so good. And a little about the Cocos2dx equivalent of Objective C stuff. Okay, understood.

And summary. He says, “hopefully non C++ developers have learned that there is nothing to fear”. Um.. so far, not completely convinced, but I think I can manage.

He ends this chapter with “and furthermore Cocos2dx is awesome!” (fan boy) and “So let’s create a game already!”. 

Yes, lets. But maybe I’ll continue reading this tomorrow.

Photo Caption Apps

Photo Caption Apps, apps that literally just put, well, captions or text on photos. I think it’s those emo/inspirational quotes all over Tumblr that inspired these text over photo meme(?) thing. So a seemingly simple purpose, actually has quite a few apps that are dedicated solely to it.

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I went to Beitou, Taiwan today and took a couple of pictures, and placed a couple of captions on them.

So I played with InstaQuote, Typic, Tiny Post, Overgram and Instaplace (“Insta” and “Gram” is the new “i”?).

First  up it’s InstaQuote, it’s basically a text caption thing for Instagram, it’s actually it’s whole name- “InstaQuote – Text Caption For Instagram”. By the way, this app is free.

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So being Insta “Quote” and all you can start off with writing a quote, but since am not a quote-y person, I just typed the name of the place I went to.

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You can use one of your photos as the background or use one from the background packs. Oh you have to buy the background packs. Separately, and they cost about a dollar, each.

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So stingy me used one of my own photos. Guys, check out the Thermal Valley in Beitou. Steam is literally rising from that body of water. Pretty, but smells like sulfur.

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Oh and then you can pick one of the styles. A couple are free, but the rest requires a Pro upgrade.

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You can change the Text Color and the Punch Color.

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You can also change well, Text Size, Alignment, Line Spacing, etc. I don’t really get what Frame Width is though.

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You can “Fine-tune” the font, like change the font, but it also requires the Pro upgrade.

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And finally “Open in Instagram”.

So from this:

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The photo came with a “natural” filter, with the steam rising and all.

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+InstaQuote. Oh it comes with a watermark.

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And finally Instagram-ed.

Should I rate these apps with stars? If ever, I’m not really sure what to give this app. It’s okay and all, but a lot of stuff requires the Pro upgrade or some In App purchase.

Next up, Typic, I noticed this app because it was featured in the New and Noteworthy section when it first came out. And app screenshots from iTunes look really pretty. I’m not sure if it had always been free, but anyway, it’s free right now.

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The splash screen is kind of cute.

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The featured picture is different every time you load the app, and I found that quite charming.

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So you can take a photo or choose one from your library.

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The app has a scroll view type interface, and you just slide across to go to a previous or next screen.

So this app actually comes with filters.

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The filter made my photo really pretty, I think.

You can tap on the Caption button to type your well, caption. Adjust Text size, font etc. Some fonts need to be bought too. But the free ones are good enough for me.

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And then you can, well type your caption.

This photo is taken at the Plum Garden. Plum flowers can apparently bloom in winter, or maybe these were just token.

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You can also add frame, in black or white. And if you chose frames, you can even adjust the corners to be a little rounded.

And you can also change your text color, black and white is also the only option though.

You can make your picture a litter blurry, to emphasize your text, but I chose not too, since the flowers are just too pretty.

You can also adjust your text opacity.

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And yes, “Open in Instagram”.

So from this:

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To this:

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No need to add filters and stuff in Instagram anymore. Oh and no watermarks either.

Next, next, is Tiny Post. It’s free.

Tiny Post is kind of interesting because it’s not just a caption app. It has a social networking thing going on too.

You have to sign up for an account first, and then you’d have this profile, and whatever photo with caption that you make will appear in your profile.

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It’s pretty, pretty basic. You take or choose a photo and then you’d get to this page.

Where you can well, type your caption.

And then change the font of your caption. I’m not a big fan of the childish looking fonts though.

And look, filters! Filters named after places, quite pretty.

So this:

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Became this:

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Pretty basic, and slightly boring.

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And there it is in my profile page.

This doesn’t have “Open in Instagram” in its Share options though, but you can share it to Facebook, Twitter though. Oh and Copy it’s URL, which means this photo is actually on the internet, then? Right, social network-y and all.

And then there’s Overgram. Over and Instagram, get it? This one is free too.

This app looks pretty hipster. Check out the splash screen:

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This app can produce pictures like these apparently.

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It starts off pretty standard. Choose one of your photos or take a new one. I like this user interface. It’s pretty slick.

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You can crop it. Since it’s going to eventually end up in Instagram, it has to be cropped into a square.

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Like the screenshot says, you can double tap to edit the text.

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You can even change the color, while you’re at it.

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Do you remember seeing a yellow triangle in the previous, previous, previous screenshot? So you slide that out and you get this round dial of a UI, which you can slide to see a variety of options.

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Like… oooh… cool fonts… Upgrade for more fonts. But the free ones are pretty cool already.

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Align…

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Size…

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And of course, “Open in Instagram”.

This app doesn’t come with filters since it probably figured that Instagram already has them.

So from this:

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This is the Beitou Library. It’s a pretty eco-friendly building, and it’s one of Taipei’s green libraries.

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Overgram produced this. It has a watermark. But you can remove it with a Pro upgrade, which costs about a dollar.

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Plus a filter in Instagram. Oh and when you use Overgram to share to Instagram, it by default has this description already, the pretty standard “I made this with…” spiel, plus a tons of hashtags. So people can actually find your post easily. And one of the hashtags is like #pleaselike, so the nice strangers on Instagram will actually Like it. And Likes are always give me a nice feeling.

Finally, Instaplace. Instaplace, given the key words in its name, it adds the name of the place where the photo was taken as a caption on your photo, which you’ll eventually put on Instagram. It’s free today, but for today only I think.

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So you choose or take a photo and that it usually automatically adds the location. Or you can also use the My Place or Locate button to help it detect the location.

There are a bunch of skins:

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I think the skins are pretty cute. Some went a little overboard with the logo placement, though.

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And then you hit that giant share button there, to share.

From this:

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To this:

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Yes, it has a watermark too. But I like recently discovered that you can remove it in the Settings (hidden in the More button).

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This adds a bunch of hashtags too to your Instagram post. So yeah, likes.

And that about sums up my trip to Beitou, but my photo caption apps (slowly becoming) addiction does not end there.

Some other pictures that I took and added captions to:

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So follow me on Instagram? @purplelilgirl

If you guys want me to check out any apps that you made, feel free to contact me, I don’t charge for reviews.